There's nothing weird about the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce warning a Pennsylvania group to stop using the term Pierogi Festival, Whiting Pierogi Fest chairman Tom Dabertin said.
A group of attorneys in Pennsylvania on Monday filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in Scranton federal court asking a judge to rule the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival isn't a competitor to Whiting's Pierogi Fest and isn't infringing on the Whiting-Robertsdale chamber's trademark rights.
The Edwardsville Hometown Committee also is seeking attorney's fees and any damages for the Whiting-Robertsdale chamber's alleged interference with the committee's existing and prospective sponsors.
In addition to warning the committee to stop using the term Pierogi Festival, the chamber sent copies of its letter to the committee to the Pennsylvania group's sponsors, threatening them with liability for trademark infringement, according to the lawsuit.
Dabertin said the Whiting-Robertsdale chamber has put on the annual Whiting Pierogi Fest since 1994 and has held trademark rights since 2006.
Obtaining trademarks rights is an expensive process that requires an attorney, he said.
"When you have trademark rights, you have to protect them," Dabertin said.
The chamber's lawyer sent the Edwardsville Hometown Committee a letter asking the committee to stop using the term Pierogi Festival or get permission to use it. Permission usually involves paying royalties, Dabertin said.
"The point is, companies and people with trademarks do this all the time," Dabertin said. "And we have to do it, too, because if you fail to protect your trademark, you lose the trademark."
When chamber board members see other groups using the trademark term, they notify the chamber's attorney, he said.
"We have given permission to others to use the trademark," he said.
Dabertin declined to discuss if other groups paid royalties, saying any arrangements are a private matter.
The Whiting-Robertsdale chamber originally sought the trademark to protect the integrity of its festival and the festival's reputation, he said.
In its lawsuit, the Edwardsville Hometown Committee denied using the trademark Pierogi Fest. It has always called its event the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival, the lawsuit says.
Dabertin referred questions about the difference between the words festival and fest to the chamber's trademark attorney, Daniel Zamudio, who did not immediately return a call and email seeking comment. Dabertin also said he had no information about whether the Whiting-Robertsdale chamber attorney sent correspondence to the Pennsylvania festival's sponsors.
"Instead of them getting our permission, they went this route," Dabertin said, referring to the lawsuit. "If they want to pick up the phone and talk to us, we're willing to talk to them."
Whiting Pierogi Fest wrapped up Sunday and attracts 300,000 people annually. Whiting’s wacky festival salutes the Region’s Eastern European heritage with a comedic twist.
The Pennsylvania committee started the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival in 2014, according to the lawsuit. Edwardsville is a borough in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, which the U.S. Census Bureau has deemed the only county in the U.S. where Polish is the most prevalent ethnic group, the suit said.